Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Marcus Ericsson topped final practice for the Australian Grand Prix as the only three drivers to set a time on slick tires late in a weather-hit session.
Heavy morning rain led to the majority of running taking place in wet conditions, with early installation laps taking place on full wets before drivers switched to the intermediate tire. Max Verstappen was leading the way for much of the session but as the track dried out there was a rapid changing of the order in the closing minutes.
Valtteri Bottas was fastest with ten minutes to go but he aborted a late lap on intermediates with the track seen as too dry for that compound. Carlos Sainz managed a late improvement to go quickest for a matter of seconds before Vettel – on the ultrasoft tire – went clear by over five seconds.
Raikkonen and Ericsson were the only other two drivers to complete a timed lap on the ultrasoft right as the session ended, with the Finn over 2.4s adrift of his team-mate and the Sauber 0.4s further back.
Verstappen ended up fourth – over five seconds slower due to the tire difference – after heading back out on intermediates just after Sainz, with the Renault driver fifth. Sainz was over seven seconds off the pace, with Daniel Ricciardo 0.8s further back in sixth as the Red Bull looked quick in mixed conditions.
Bottas ended up seventh at the head of four cars covered by less than 0.13s, with team-mate Lewis Hamilton eighth followed by the McLaren pair of Stoffel Vandoorne and Fernando Alonso. While the MCL33 looked quick on intermediates – leading the way at one stage of the session – Alonso vented his anger at his team after being sent out too late to complete a timed lap on ultrasofts despite saying the track was ready, adding: “I don’t know what we are doing.”
The Toro Rosso-Hondas of Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley were 11th and 12th ahead of the two Williams drivers, but many teams carried out limited running as the weather forecast suggests qualifying is now set to be dry.
With no further significant rain forecast, Force India took that approach to the most extreme level, with Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez each completing a solitary installation lap. The team also has limited spare parts due to its introduction of a major upgrade in Melbourne, making wet running in practice even more of a risk.